Neurological disorders are disorders that affect the brain, spinal cord, nerves and muscles. Many such disorders reduce the efficiency of movement as well as the ability to speak clearly. The speech difficulties that result from neurological disorders thus depend upon the extent of the disorder, and the treatment plan for such speech difficulties will need to take into account the prognosis of the disorder before it can estimate how much improvement can be expected. Aphasia, apraxia of speech/dyspraxia and Friedreich’s ataxia are all neurological disorders that result in speech difficulties.
AphasiaAphasia is a condition that leaves an individual unable to produce or comprehend language, usually due to an injury, the growth of lesions, a brain tumour or a progressive neurological disease that affects the part of the brain that controls such communications. However, depending upon the cause of aphasia, the individual may be left unable to speak, unable to read or write, both or another combination of communication difficulties.
Many different types of aphasias exist, all with particular signs and symptoms. The prognosis for aphasia will depend upon the type of aphasia, the cause of the aphasia and the age of the individual involved.
Apraxia of Speech/DyspraxiaApraxia of speech, sometimes also called dyspraxia, leaves individuals unable to consistently and correctly say what they mean. There are two main types of apraxia of speech. Acquired apraxia of speech is mostly present in adults and is often the result of injury to the part of the brain that controls language use. Developmental apraxia of speech occurs mainly in children and is often present from birth. Such children are often able to understand language much more efficiently than they are able to produce language themselves. The cause of this type of apraxia of speech remains unknown, though many researchers believe that it is the result of a neurological disorder, which affects the part of the brain that controls language use. Some recent research also suggests that the cause of developmental apraxia of speech may be genetic.
Friedreich’s AtaxiaFriedreich’s ataxia is a disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system, often causing speech difficulties. This disease is inherited and results in the degeneration of nerve tissue in the spinal cord as well as degeneration of the nerves that control the muscles of the arms and legs. Often this means that an individual suffering from Friedreich’s ataxia will appear awkward, clumsy and unsteady on his or her feet because these muscle movements will no longer be smooth. Dysarthia, a slowness and/or slurring of the speech, will also develop. There is no known cure for Friedreich’s ataxia, though consistent physical therapy and speech therapy can help individuals cope with their new challenges.
Support for Speech Difficulties and Disorders in the United KingdomThough there are many different causes and types of speech difficulties and disorders, there are many organisations that exist to support the individuals with such challenges to their speech. Many of these organisations are devoted to providing information and advice to those who suffer from a particular disorder or difficulty, while others are also committed to fundraising for further research in a specific area.
Just a few of the organisations operating in the UK today include Speakability (www.speakability.org.uk) and Talking Point (www.talkingpoint.org.uk). When a speech disorder is diagnosed, or a neurological disorder that will likely impact an individual’s speech is diagnosed, the medical professional who makes the diagnosis should be able to offer more information on relevant support organisations.